It has been a bit of a different schedule at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend with all practice sessions being held prior to qualifying and with Happy Hour and qualifying both being held on Saturday. The change from the typical schedule of events apparently suited Stewart-Haas Racing just fine, because two-time Texas winner Tony Stewart responded by snagging his first pole of 2014, while his teammate Kevin Harvick qualified third. Meanwhile, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards also qualified in the top five, and like Stewart, both have multiple victories at Texas.
On the flip side, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are among the former Texas winners that really struggled in qualifying. In fact, neither driver will start in the top 25 this weekend. With big names starting at the front and near the rear of the field, it will be interesting to see how Sunday's race plays out over the course of 500 miles at the very fast 1.5-mile oval. At least for now, it appears that teams have a handle on the tire issues that have been wreaking havoc on drivers and fantasy owners alike in recent weeks.
The top 3
1) Jimmie Johnson
Johnson didn't have a great showing in qualifying, but he had one of the best cars on the track in both practice sessions. After topping the charts in the opening session, he logged the second-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Throw in his dominant numbers at Texas, including a 2.5 average finish in the last four races, and he remains the No. 1 option heading into Sunday's race.
2) Greg Biffle
All signs point to another strong run for Biffle at Texas this weekend. After ranking second and fourth in the two practice sessions at the track, he delivered a fourth-place effort in qualifying. Biffle heads into Sunday's race with a series-leading nine top-10s in the last 10 races at Texas, and since 2005, no driver has led more laps at the track. Get him in your lineups this weekend.
3) Kevin Harvick
Harvick jumps up into third in the final rankings after a strong all-around showing so far this weekend. He will start third in Sunday's Duck Commander 500, and in Happy Hour Saturday, he turned the third-fastest lap to go along with the best 10-lap average speed. Harvick has eight top-15s in his last nine starts at Texas, including five straight, and he is looking like a safe bet for a top-five this weekend.
15) Paul Menard
He has been enjoying a solid stretch at Texas, and Menard appears set to continue to the success this weekend. He ranked inside the top 10 in both practice sessions, and he logged the third-best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. Menard has six top-20s in his last seven starts at Texas and has four top-15s during the stretch. As strong as he looked in practice, I wouldn't rule out a run at the top 10.
16) Jamie McMurray
Although McMurray has gone 10 straight starts at Texas without logging a top-10 finish, he has looked dialed in at the track all weekend. He cracked the top 10 in both practice sessions, turning the sixth-fastest lap in the opening session. Meanwhile, McMurray has finished 18th or better in three of his last four starts at Texas, so a top-15 run isn't out of the question.
20) Trevor Bayne
Bayne was my sleeper special heading into the weekend, and I am even more confident in his chances now. Not only did he qualify in the top 10, but he also ranked inside the top 10 in both practice sessions. Bayne enters Sunday's race with four top-20s in seven starts at Texas, and he should be good for at least another top-20 and possibly a top-15.
23) Aric Almirola
His overall numbers at Texas aren't great, but Almirola does have a pair of top-15s in his last three starts at the track. Meanwhile, he qualified in the top 20 and looked stout in Happy Hour Saturday, turning the fifth-fastest lap. Almirola should at least have a shot at a top-20 this weekend.
Big names outside the top 10
17) Clint Bowyer
Texas has generally been kind to Bowyer, but he doesn't seem to have a great setup to work with this weekend. He ranked outside the top 20 in both practice sessions, and he also qualified outside the top 20. It looks like Bowyer will be playing damage control this weekend.
18) Kasey Kahne
Kahne has been hit or miss at Texas throughout his career, and based on practice and qualifying times, one of his lackluster runs could be on tap Sunday. He ranked 32nd in the final practice session and followed it up with a 32nd-place effort in qualifying. Kahne is looking like a risky play, at best, this weekend.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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